A Funicular Find

Wellington-190314-06This is really the first city that we were able to explore in New Zealand. We just got a local Hop-on-Hop-off tour of the city. Although Wellington is famous for its Funicular (cable-car) there are 40+ other private cable cars around the city due to its hills. Many just fit one or 2 passengers. It is so they can get from the street to their house without climbing many steep steps. It makes sense. 

In Wellington, we did ride the famous cable car, going from the top down, then going back up. Going back up was a much longer wait with all the cruise ship passengers starting at the bottom. We walked thru the cable car museum as well. After completing the bus tour we walked down Cuba Street to a brewery/roastery called Husk. I got to try their beers, and Cyn their coffee. Both were great, the food was good too! 

After lunch, I dropped off Cyn at the cruise ship shuttle bus so I could do a little geocaching. My first stop was to ride the Cable Car to its half-way point and get off to get a geocache. From there to the main train station. Sadly I did not have enough time to ride the commuter trains. The off to visit the Old St. Paul’s Church, then the modern St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Cathedral was going to have Evensong, but ti was too late for me to stay. From there to the shuttle bus back to the ship. 

My only lament was Wellington up until about 9 months ago had a trolleybus system.. The system was in good shape, but political shenanigans forced the shut down of the electric buses (by the green party no less), and immediately tore down the overhead wires. The city had to get diesel buses from other cities as replacements. They are trying out battery buses, but are having poor results due to the steep hills (which the diesel buses are also struggling with). There is now talk of multi-billion $ light rail. Very sad. I did see trolley poles for the wires all over the city, and occasionally a span wire. They really should just put back what they had.

Back on the ship, we ate at the main dining room for dinner. We skipped the headliner show again tonight.

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Who loves Art Deco – I do!

Napier-190315-17I didn’t have any expectations for Napier. I knew it was famous for its art deco buildings, but that is it. I had hired a local company to give us a tour around town in an old car which seemed like it would be fun. What I thought would be a sleepy stop turned into a great stop. Both Cyn and I fell in love with Napier.

We took the port shuttle bus to town and made a beeline to the kiosk to Hooters Vintage Cars. I had reserved a closed top car, but with the great weather, I asked to switch to an open top, which they obliged. They put us in a blue 1927 Buick named Bonnie. Since I drive a 2014 Buick and I thought it was perfect. Our driver was Ginny. She was simply fantastic. The first thing she said is Cyn had to do the royal wave as we went around town. Cyn did, and she felt like royalty in this classic car!

Ginny drove us all over town telling us about the history of Napier and pointing out all the different historic buildings. Napier was destroyed by the awful Hawke’s Bay earthquake on Feb. 3rd, 1931. What wasn’t destroyed by the earthquake, was consumed by the fire afterward as the water system had been compromised during the quake. Most of the central business district was destroyed. To date, this was New Zealand’s worst disaster with 256 people killed in the region, 161 of them in just Napier. The town was rebuilt in just under 4 years. Since the 1930s was the art deco period, most buildings were built in that style. There are Victorians around town, those were built prior to the quake and survived as they were wood framed, and luckily escaped the fire. Napier also gained land during the quake. The land uplifted pushing its shoreline outwards, and in the port area became new land which was level enough for a new airport. 

The one request I had with the car tour was to visit a surviving tram shelter, which Ginny took us to and allowed me to get out of the car to take photos. Prior to the quake, Napier had a tram linking downtown to the residential areas and the port. The trams were destroyed in the quake. Tracks were left in place as there was some consideration to restore the trams, but by 1935, it was decided to not rebuild the system and the tracks were paved over. The tram shelter at Shakespeare and Battery Roads is all the remains. It has been nicely maintained with nice murals. 

We had a great tour of the area. Soon we were back where we started and thanked Ginny and started to walk around town. Soon it was lunchtime. I had asked the owner of Hooters Auto where was a good place to go with good beer. He gave me 2 options, I choose the Irish pub. It was just barely opening at the time. I saw Kilkenny on draft and that is all I saw on the beer list (there were other choices but K is my favorite beer). We had a Guinness Meat pie which was yummy. 

Cyn had eyed Blue Pearls while walking around. After lunch, I said we should go back to look at them some more. She really liked them. They are a new pearl being cultured in New Zealand. She found a pair that she really liked. I saw a nice little display saying 30th anniversary is Pearl. She was nervous about the price, but with the exchange rate, and the discount they gave us, I said it is our 30th wedding anniversary in a couple of days, so pearls she shall have 🙂.

Originally the ship was supposed to have left at 2 pm, but the captain asked to port if we could stay another hour, and the port said yes (which I bet the merchants were very happy with). It was now almost 1 pm. Cyn decided to get the shuttle back to the ship (after stopping for Gelato). I stayed in town to do a little geocaching. I found a couple of caches, then went after an Earthcache. It was about the Earthquake. It made me walk all over town to read different signboards. There was one elusive signboard I needed. I found it with about 15 minutes to spare before the last shuttles were heading back to the ship! It was worth it!

Back on the ship, we ate at Izumi for dinner, their Japanese Sushi place. No hot rocks or hibachi on the Ovation. Service was excellent as was the food. It is hard to try to eat $70 worth of sushi (which our package allowed). We did not quite make it. Our bellies were full. We skipped the headliner show again tonight.

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Flying Above the Clouds

AtSea-190313-07Today was another Sea Day. There were 2 highlights today. First, we had booked a trip on the North Star. This is basically a glass bubble that is on a huge hydraulic arm that they can rise above the ship for a better view. The bubble is similar to the cabins on the London Eye. 

We had a morning reservation. About 30-minute prior fog started to roll in. The ships fog horn was going off. When we were heading into the glass cabin the crew said there might be nothing to see, and if that was the case, they would re-schedule us. 

As the arm slowly raised up, we were deep in the fog and the ship seemed to disappear. Then suddenly, we were above the fog bank. It was as if we were flying. We could see land in the distance but was hard to see the ship below us. Cyn noted that every time the ship blew its fog horn, it was as if the ship was calling the fog to gather around the ship. The fog seemed thickest over the ship. It was a great experience.

Next up was to see the matinee of the show The Beautiful Dream as we missed the evening shows the night before. It is a Royal Caribbean 50 minute Broadway-style show. It was VERY awesome. Basically about a man with a family. His wife had passed away and was afraid to move on. He was reluctant to find new love. Thru a dream with the spirit of his wife, he learned to let her go and find love again. 

For dinner, we went to Jamie’s Italian. This specialty dining is inspired by the UK famous chef Jamie Oliver. We had a great server and fantastic food, it was the best meal onboard. So much so that we decided we eat here again on our anniversary later in the cruise. We also asked for the same server when making the reservations.

We skipped the headliner show this evening. Instead, we went to a Big Band concert followed by the full ship’s orchestra concert in the Music Hall. It was a great evening of music!

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A Scenic Train Ride

Dunedin-190312-29Today was spent riding the Taieri Gorge Railway. Due to our ship’s planned late arrival, I had opted to book the train trip thru the ship, at a premium. But this way we boarded the train right at where we docked, no risk of missing the train in town or at Pukerangi. We were directed to the first passenger car, which as rather comfortable. We sat with an older mother-daughter from Australia. The train car did have outside vestibule we could go to. There was also an open car about mid-train, but it looked crowded, so I never went there. It took about 2.5 hours to get to the turn around point at Pukerangi. On the way up they gave us free snacks and drinks (including beer and wine. 

At Pukerangi, we were only supposed to spend 20 minutes there as the engines ran around the train. but it was closer to 40 minutes. This would impact us later. I was happy to find a geocache there. While we were stopped, ee had swapped tables with the 4 folks on the other side of the car so we all would have different views heading back.

After starting our return, we were given a box lunch, which was not too bad. I felt bad for our car host as normally they would have 2 car hosts, but they did not have enough volunteers this day. 

The ride back was nice, but getting warm. We had to stop at Hindon to wait for train orders to continue. Then we stopped again before joining the coastline at Wingatui to wait for the afternoon train to pass us. We were stopped a good 30 minutes. All this time waiting was adding up. I had hoped to be back at Dunedin by 3 pm to visit the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum as they had displays of the former cablecars of Dunedin, plus the locomotive Josephine. Plus at 4 pm I had a geocaching event to go to being held by German Geocachers at the Octagon in town. We didn’t start moving until 3:55 pm, I had sent a message to the geocachers that I would not be there. 

We were then stopped again just short of Dunedin Station due to another train. So my hope to at least visit the museum or see the town was dashed. We pulled in to the station at 4:30 pm. The train was not going back to the dock in Port Chalmers because port trains were blocking the line, so everyone had to disembark the train to board buses back to the ship. This did give me a little time to at least photograph the beautiful station. It took a long time to get enough buses to get us all back. We boarded a bus around 5:15 pm. 

The train ride was great. I think the Skagway train in Alaska is much better though. Missing checking our Dunedin was a disappointment. I will need to come back to visit someday.

For dinner, we just got food from the Windjammer, as we had been invited to a Crown&Anchor upper tier event in the Two-70. It was a nice event basically thanking all of the loyal cruisers for using Royal Caribbean. They showed off the features of Two-70’s back screen, as well as the robot arms holding large TV displays and what they could do. It was a great show. The Hotel Director really gave an inspiring talk about what he does and he believes it is people that make the ship work.

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Flying Fjords

Beautiful Fjordland and iFly

TheSounds-190311-06Today was spent cruising through the Fjords of New Zealand. First up was cruising up to the end of Milford Sound and back in the early morning. Around 1 pm we were cruising up the Thompson sound and out Doubtful Sound. Then around 4 pm, we cruised up Breaksea Sound around Resolution Island and out Dusky Sound. They are all park of Fjordland National Park of New Zealand. This park is a Unesco World Heritage Area and covers nearly 5% of New Zealand! There is very little access to the Fjordland. Milford has the only road access from the interior. There are trails (they call them tracks) to hike in. But the best way is by boat, or in our case by Cruise Ship. There was one Earthcache along the way that could only be found by boat, I did it from my balcony! Today made it worth spending a little extra money to get a balcony room!

While we were at the top of Milford Sound, Cyn had her iFly appointment. This is basically indoor skydiving. She had a introductory flight which was free. She LOVED it! I could not get myself to do it (yes I am a chicken). 

For dinner, we ate at Wonderland. A very novel concept restaurant. Its theme was basically innovative dished inspired by going down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, many of the small plates had shellfish, so I could not partake. They felt bad so they gave me 2 different main entrees instead. The experience was pretty cool, but I probably would not go back again. 

We went to the headliner show Phoenix, he was a hypnotist. Not a bad show. We had also listened to a little jazz at the Boleros lounge.

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Our first 2 Sea Days

AtSea-190309-009These 2 days were spent getting acquainted with the ship, the Ovation of the Seas, She is currently tied with 2 other RCI Quantum Class ships at being the 8th largest cruise ship in the world. RCI has 7 of the 10 largest cruise ships currently at sea. Ovation was launched in April of 2016. She consists of 168,666 gross tons, is 1,142 ft long and 160 ft wide with 16 decks. Her maximum occupancy is 4900 passengers, plus about 1600 crew. More details will be shared in a later album.

We had cabin # 9226. It is a balcony cabin on deck 9 port side. We LOVED this cabin. It is by far the best cabin we have had over our past 6 cruises. It seemed wider, we never had to walk sideways when passing each other. The bed was positioned by the balcony door. What was really great is the storage space. The room simply swallowed up our 2+ weeks of clothing and we still have space left over. Every previous cruise it seemed like storage space was at a premium, but not here. It was much easier to organize everything. The only negative is the bathroom remained very small like all the other ships. I guess we need to move up to a suite room to have a bigger bathroom.

These 2 seas days were a little rough, which is common in the Tasman Sea. Enough that Cyn’s appointment for iFly on Day 3 had to be rescheduled. For dinner these 2 days we ate in the main dining room. Day 2 was formal night. We had reservations that night to attend the multi-media/live dancing/singing/acrobatic show called Pixels in the Two-70 lounge. Day 3 we saw the headliner show which was an Irish-Aussie comedian David Callan.

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Trains, Trams, Ferries and a ship!

Sydney-190308-023Today is the day we boarded our cruise for New Zealand. As always, I use morning time before we had to leave to get some last rail-fanning in. It started with me getting breakfast for the last time from the coffee shop downstairs and bringing it to Cyn. Then I was off…

I started by taking the T1 Line north. I made a stop at Chatwood to see if I could make out the future metro line that will run through. The metro here is taking over the former T1 branch towards Epping. Construction walls were up, but I could see the platform doors for the metro tracks in the center to allow for future cross-platform interchange with the T1. I then continued north to Hornsby. A lot of school children were boarding the train as it went.

At Hornsby, I boarded a southbound train along the T1 via Epping/Strathfield running as a limited express. I got off at Epping to again see any indications of the metro, but only blocked off stairs for a future interchange. Now, this is when my plan started to fall apart for the morning. The next train south appeared to be late and was crowded when it arrived. The train was a limited express but seemed to not go very fast. Then it just stopped about a mile before Strathfield station (a major interchange station). After a while, the guard announced there was train traffic and we would be moving shortly. About 10 minutes later we started creeping along, then seemed to make a sudden emergency stop. We then continued to crawl into Strathfield with only the first 2 cars at the platform. People were getting angry. The guard announced that there was a broken train just ahead of us and that our train was now out of service and we would be disembarking this loaded 8 car train thru the first 2 cars only. I was in car 2. One passenger started losing it as the doors were still not being opened. The crazy person saw people getting out of the first carriage and then she started pounding on the doors. People tried to quiet her down. Soon we all started moving to car one. The train operator has opened up his cab door to the carriage and his side door so we were all exiting single file thru the operator’s cab to the platform (please keep in mind these are double-deck trains). I feel sorry for those in car 8. My guess the guard needed to come forward to manually open the main doors in car 1/2, but the guard position is either in car 5 or car 8, so he was probably having a hard time to get there. And yes, about 20 feet in front of our train was another train at the platform that was emptied and out-of-service. There were many announcements about severe delays on the T1 line. This all cost me about 45 mins. My plan to complete the Light Rail system was dashed. So plans changed.

I transferred to a T2 local train to go a few stops to the interchange station with the light rail at Lewisham. It is a 10-minute walk from Lewisham station to the West Lewisham halt on the light rail. But managed to get a geocache along the way. I then boarded the Light Rail to head south to Dulwich Hill. This leaves a gap for riding the light rail between West Lewisham to Jubilee Park that I will need to get some other day. At Dulwich Hill I transferred to the T3 to get back to Central, then the T1 to Milson’s Point.

I did the last bit of packing in the room, then we stopped at the coffee shop for one last drink (We had filled up the punch card for a free coffee). I turned in the room key at a lock-box and we were off. We rolled our luggage down the hill to catch the ferry. The ferry would take us around our cruise ship to Circular Quay. (The planes mentioned in the title were flying overhead). 

We then rolled our luggage over to the Cruise Ship terminal, dropped them off and proceeded to board the ship. Our Ferry had left Milson’s Point at about 11:40 am. We were checked in and on-board, and eating lunch by 12:20 pm, it went pretty fast. We were allowed in our room at 1 pm. The ship left Circular Quay at about 6:30 pm. Dinner was at 7 pm at Chops Steak House (We had a 5-night specialty restaurant package to use). After dinner we did a little exploring, then just crashed.

More details about our room and the ship will be in the next post about our first 2 sea days.

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Koalas. Kangaroos & Mountains

Sydney-190307-002This was planned to be a long day… We took a morning train to Blacktown. We then took a bus to Featherdale Wildlife Park. It is a small park focused strictly on native Australian wildlife. It was a fun place to go see the birds, owls, and other local animals. The highlight was getting a photo with a Koala and feeding Wallabies and Kangaroos. We got our photo with a Koala named Noah. It was well worth the 2 hours we spent there. We got there early enough that it wasn’t crowded, but as we were leaving it was getting that way. We then boarded the bus back to the train station to head to Katoomba in the famous Blue Mountains.

We arrived at Katoomba at lunchtime, so the first stop was lunch. We wound up at an Irish Pub. The food was good, and the bartender was fantastic! Next to get a bus to head to Scenic World. 

Scenic World is full of trails, with 3 “rides”. A cableway going high across the valley, a ropeway going from the top to the bottom of the valley, and lastly the Scenic Railway. It was really a funicular. It holds the title of the steepest railway in the world. It goes almost vertical on its initial drop into the valley thru a natural rock cut. A pretty intense experience. We did rid all 3 features, as well as walk around the tops of the cliffs and in the valley below. There was an Earthcache to find! The scenery was spectacular. We left as it was closing down for the day. So jumped on the bus back to the train. After the 2.5-hour train ride, we were pretty tired. We got takeaway at Central Station before heading to our room for the night. I also had to re-pack to get ready for tour cruise the next day. (Our room had a washer-dryer, so we had done some laundry during our stay).

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Sydney Tramway Museum

Sydney-190306-003Today was spent at a required stop for me. The Sydney Tramway Museum. We took the train about 45 minutes to Loftus, which is a 2-minute walk to the museum. I had contacted the museum prior to my arrival and was given a personal tour by Matthew Geier of their latest acquisition, a modern LRV Variotram from Sydney that was retired. 

The morning and early afternoon was spent riding and photographing tram. I am just posting a few here. I was also given another tour by another volunteer of their running shed as that is where O-class car #1111 is stored. It is sister car to the Sydney car at the museum in Oregon which I have operated. 

We had lunch from the canteen at the museum and my wife was very patient waiting in the shade for me to complete my experience.

Once done, We hopped on the train one stop so I could get a tram themed geocache in Sutherland before heading back to our room. While Cyn rested, I went back out to visit a Railway history group’s bookstore (ARHS-NSW) at Redfern. I only found about it via a display on the construction of the City Circle railway at St. James Station. The group had recently published a history book on the City Circle construction. It is probably the heaviest book I ever purchased, so much keeping luggage weight down…

I went back to the room, then we headed out for dinner. First stop was the Hard Rock Cafe at Darling Harbor for the requisite shot glass. We walked around the harbor, but I decided to go to the oldest brewery/hotel in Sydney for dinner, The Lord Nelson, located The Rocks area. Originally I planned to hop a bus, but there was a delay, so we grabbed a cab for the 10-minute ride. The cab driver did not understand me when I just said Lord Nelson, When I gave him the address, he said: “oh you mean THE Lord Nelson Hotel/Brewery”. I guess I need to call my fellow choir members David, Barry & Greg: THE Nelson’s. It was a great place. We ordered a meat pie. It was THE best pie I have had since The King Charles House in Worcester, England, and that is saying a lot!

After dinner, we went to the close by the bus stop to get to the train. I noticed the bus shelter looked like an old tram shelter. I looked at it and the sign said that yes indeed it was a former tram shelter. And looking at an old tram map of Sydney, the trams did go by here to Miller’s Point. A nice way to end a tram day!

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Touring Sydney

Sydney-190305-003For Breakfast, we grabbed a bit from the coffee shop downstairs, which was great. Later in the morning, we took the train to the city for a “free” Sydney bus tour. We paid $18AUD for the bus, then the guide just worked for tips, which were well deserved. The tour was great, focusing mainly on the eastern suburbs, with a big stop at Bondi Beach. After the tour, we stopped in the Catholic Cathedral, St, Mary’s. After that, we stopped for lunch at a sidewalk cafe at Hyde Park. From there we headed back to our room.

Cyn was exhausted, so she stayed back in the room, so I could get some be a railfan. I started first by walking across the famous Harbour Bridge. I stopped at the northwest pylon to climb to the “top” Although not part of the official bridge climb, the receipt says bridge climb. I did a walk around the Rocks area for a while (geocaching), before heading back to the room. 

Cyn and I headed out for dinner at Circular Quay via the ferry from Milson’s Point to the Quay. We wound up at the Squire right by the cruise ship terminal, it is a brewpub. The beer was great and the food was as well! The view was even better!. We then took the ferry back to collapse for the night.

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